Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Ten Days at VCCA

I had another excellent stay at VCCA. For those of you who know the place, my studio was W6 (again!), which is right by the drive where the visual artists load/unload their cars (not that I’m nosy), and I had bedroom #3, which meant that I had my OWN bathroom, though it was quite—and I do mean quite—tiny. Still, no sharing, and that is worth a lot.

I had all sorts of plans in mind about what I was going to work on—seriously, for fun I typed up a list of options and there were 21 ideas that I would have been happy to tackle. I did work on a couple of these ideas, but a single, idle conversation at breakfast changed everything and sent me in a totally new direction in a very exciting way (thank you, Rachel Zucker!). I’ll pass along the comment that got me thinking, and perhaps it will inspire you. It’s not all that complicated. Rachel, a poet, was talking about a friend of hers who taught a class called something like “Writing about Subcultures.” So—I decided to write about a subculture that day. I probably don’t want to go into too many details at the moment, so suffice it say….best decision I’ve made for a long, long time.

So I got a lot of writing done, mostly rough drafts that I’ll have to spend the coming months fixing up. I think that spilling out Anne Lamott’s “shitty drafts” really works for me in the residency situation. It’s a new environment, there’s a lot of energy—somehow new stuff seems to flow more readily than it does at boring old home. When I’ve been limited to editing and revising at VCCA, I’ve usually felt hampered.

The other important issue: The food was mostly quite good. In fact, on Saint Patrick’s Day, we had some of the most amazing corned beef ever. Honestly, second only to top-notch Jewish deli corned beef. There was a tiny fight over the last little scraps as several people (including me) raced up for seconds. And there were some burritos at lunch that technically weren’t anything fabulous, but that I’ll remember with fondness.

And I read some excellent books:

The Dry Well by Marlin Barton (short stories by my colleague at Converse College)
If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This by Robin Black (short stories)
Normal People Don’t Live Like This by Dylan Landis (novel in stories)

I couldn’t say enough good things about these books; everyone should read each of them. But, to be more specific, read Landis for perfect prose that will make you feel lazy as a writer for accepting less in your own work; read Black for stories of the deep complexities and moments of grace of real life; and read Barton to read deeply lived lives one small town in Alabama and if you wish Flannery O’Connor were still around writing. All three of these books were incredibly inspiring to me while I was here, and I honestly feel as though they came to me at exactly the right time.

I read some less than inspiring books that shall remain nameless. Boo!

Now it’s back to the real world—which, given the avalanche of recent bad news—I didn’t actually miss all that much. Oh, to be back at VCCA, complaining about stinkbugs!


DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.